UNESCO row: 'Tomb of Rachel is a mosque'

UNESCO, the world culture and heritage organisation, has classified the ancient Tomb of Rachel, south of Jerusalem, as a mosque as well as a holy Jewish site.

The small building on the outskirts of Bethlehem has been identified for many centuries as the tomb of the Matriarch Rachel who, according to the Torah, died there while giving birth to Benjamin.

The shrine, still a site of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of Jews every year, remained under Israeli control as part of the Oslo Accords. There was no argument over this identification until a few years ago when the Palestinians began claiming that the building was the Bilal Ibn-Rabah Mosque.

The new classification by Unesco came after Muslim members of the organisation attacked the Israeli government's decision in March to add Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of The Patriarchs in Hebron, both outside the pre-1967 borders, to a new list of national heritage sites.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily to the decision, saying: "It is unfortunate that an organisation that was established with the goal of promoting the cultural preservation of historical sites around the world is attempting, for political reasons, to uproot the connection between Israel and its cultural heritage."

    Last updated: 4:49pm, November 4 2010